Saturday, 30 August 2008


I always laugh at the TV adverts which tell you that their product "gives you confidence". Usually the product is connected to bodily functions in some way: deodorant, good-bacteria yogurt, toothpaste or cracked heel balm. And these adverts make me laugh because they do the absolute opposite of give you confidence. They give you anxiety, and then helpfully suggest that you could get rid of the anxiety they've just given you by buying their product.

Last week, after dithering all summer, I bought myself a bicycle.

The dithering had been over whether I could use it to cycle to work (is it too far? will I arrive too hot and sweaty? how will I find my way through Hackney? can I get to work quickly enough?). Then one day at work last week, I found I'd just had enough of my own anxious whining. So I went to the bike shop when I left the office for the evening and bought myself a bike. Just like that. No messing.

I bought a helmet, some locks and lights and a bright fluorescent waistcoat too, got on the bike and steered my way out into the evening rush hour traffic through the City. That, my friends, is confidence!

I've never cycled in London before, and I always get lost going through Hackney, but I wasn't fazed. Just utterly fearless, full of confidence, zooming up Kingsland Road in my geeky high-vis jacket with the evening breeze ruffling my hair ( zooming might be exaggerating a little...). I didn't miss any turnings, I didn't have to get off and push up any hills, I even cycled round a huge roundabout, alongside a double-decker bus, without mishap.

I arrived home rather weary, but on such a high, and full of confidence to do it again when I'm at work next week.

Oh, and the other illustration of my confidence? Putting up these photos of me in ridiculous bike clothing and squinting at the sun. I must be mad!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Holidays, mountains, milk and a plan

I'm now at that stage of the summer where I feel unsettled. I am back at work, but the children are not back at school. Our holiday is passed, but there is still fun and relaxation to be had. The evenings are drawing in ever so slightly, but it is not yet autumn. I've got things to do and I don't feel ready to start any of them yet. Maybe I'm trying to eke out my summer holiday just a little bit longer.

And that's not surprising, because our trip to Bala Lake in Snowdonia, and to Coniston in the Lake District, was awesome. We spent our time walking, admiring mountains, swimming in icy lakes (G, C and O - not me!), walking some more, admiring the mountains a bit more, and watching the Olympics when we were tired after our walks. I don't get to walk up any mountains at home in East London, so I miss them now I'm back.

This morning I had a glass of cold milk with my breakfast. The serenity of a simple glass of white milk is so pleasing early in the day.

I drank my milk and put together a list of things I still want to do with the rest of the summer. Somehow. Maybe these will be tucked into odd days and afternoons, but that's okay - there's still a bit of summer left.

  • make more jam (the only jam I've made so far this summer has been Anna's blackberry jam, which is sublime but has been eaten already)
  • read another Secret Seven book with O
  • make some more recipes from Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer (cherry cake and Milly-Molly-Mandy's patty pan sultana cakes made so far - both fabulous)
  • Plant some lavender into pots for beside the front door
  • more lazy days with friends, before the school term starts
  • find some more geocaches - even though we don't have any mountains, there are always nice walks to be had in Epping Forest.

What are your plans for the last few weeks of summer?


Jane at the wonderfully witty Petticoat Lane has kindly nominated me for an award. And to pass on the love I am going to give a long overdue update to my sidebar list of Blogs I Like to Catch Up On. Thank you Jane!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Mad about maps

I love maps, and I have collected many over the years. A few are to keep, because I love them, but most are to use.
Today, I've started gathering maps of Snowdonia and the Lake District together, for our holiday next week. Some we've had for years - fished out of the car's door pockets and assorted bookshelves. Some are new - neatly folded and sent in double quick time earlier this week by good old Amazon.

My favourite maps-to-use are those from the Ordnance Survey Explorer Active range. They show everything you need for outdoor activities: cycle hire, marked walking, cycling and horse riding trails, car parks ... and pubs. Unfolding a map, tracing with my finger the paths I might walk, fills my head with exciting possibilities and plans. Shall I take the cliff path along to the lifeboat station and end up at the pub in town? Or shall I walk up to the ridge, take some photos and then spend the afternoon winding back down to the village through the forest? Planning day long walks with a pile of maps by my side is one of my all time favourite things to do. Now I want to go and find out what that "Fish Ladder" in the map below is all about!

Sometimes, especially with small children in tow, I want to walk more of a tried and tested route - but still feel as though I am a rugged explorer finding my way through the wilderness with a map. For this, the Jarrold pathfinder guides are perfect.

The Jarrold guides have walks of varying lengths and difficulty, and contain excerpts from Ordnance Survey maps as well as photos of key points along the walk - maybe a view, a monument, or the gate where you must turn back on yourself and head up hill.

And this summer, I have two new discoveries that will add so much to our walks and exploration.

Firstly, a whole load of books for C and O from the Usborne Spotters Guides series.

As well as this Night Sky guide (which I think will be a hit during the first week of our holiday, when we are camping) I also have the wild flowers, trees, butterflies and ponds and lakes books. Having something to look for is my second favourite way of keeping children motivated and not moaning on a long walk (my top method is bribing them with toffees).

And finally there is a treat for me. This book by Hunter Davies which has introduced me to the wonderful world of Wainwright.

Before this week, I had vaguely heard of Wainwright and knew that he had written walking guides to the Lake District, but no more. This book has explained to me why he is so revered and admired by walkers, publishers, artists and writers alike.

Wainwright hand wrote and hand drew every single one of his books. He found a local printer who would faithfully reproduce the books as he wrote them, not change them into typeface. His books contain loving prose descriptions of the landscape, evocative pen-and-ink drawings and incredible maps and diagrams. I am now such a fan - after just one evening reading Hunter Davies' book!

I can't wait to get up to those Lakes now and try out some of Wainwright's walks for myself. Time to go and buy a big bag of toffees....

Sunday, 3 August 2008

True love

The day before:

The day itself:

And the day after:

David and Naomi, I wish you all the happiness in the world. Thank you for a wonderful weekend!